Suzanne Tobias

Back-to-school shopping: It's a mad, fad world

Back-to-school shopping is so confuzling, am I right? I mean, we could go to Kmart, where we'll be voted "Most Likely to Rock." (But only if we model enough "blingitude." Blingitude is a girl's BFF.)

Or Walmart, where Miley Cyrus is nodding her head like yeah, moving her hips like yeah.

Or Kohl's, where Avril Lavigne's hoodies feature secret iPod pockets and earbud drawstrings. You'll never have to listen to your teacher again!

Or Sears, where Selena Gomez promises to "Crush Your Style."

Oh, and we'll definitely want a pair of those Ecko shoes that Vanessa Hudgens wears, because they make school seem all rockin' and sparkly. Blingitude FTW!

It's a mad, fad world out there. And ever more retailers are counting on teens wanting to look like celebrities.

It's hardly a surprise. School hallways have been fashion runways as long as I've been around — which is longer than Miley Cyrus — and teens want nothing more than to be cool and fit in.

But that means this is a great time to talk to children — especially girls — about what's appropriate, affordable and realistic, and whether models and celebrities are really worth mimicking.

Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland, in partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA and the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, recently launched an effort to promote healthy media images for girls. As the mom of a girl who will turn 13 this year, it's a cause I don't hesitate to champion.

Consider these stats, from a 2010 Girl Scout Research Institute survey:

* Sixty percent of girls surveyed compare themselves with models.

* More than half say they diet to lose weight.

* Almost a third admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight.

* And nearly 90 percent say the media places a lot of pressure on girls to be thin.

Negative body images aren't the only cause for concern. Research shows that girls and women of color are disproportionately absent from mainstream media. Less than one in three speaking characters in children's movies are female. And ever-more-sexualized images of girls have been shown to impair teens' ability to develop healthy relationships.

What to do? A new Girl Scout initiative, "It's Your Story, Tell It," will get Scouts talking about how cultural messages affect girls. And the local council plans to host community roundtables to get others talking.

For parents, it starts by opening your mouth as well as your wallet. Discuss commercials, magazines, movies and TV. Talk about the messages certain styles convey. Encourage nutritious eating and exercise to be healthy, not thin. Compliment your child's looks —"You've got the most beautiful smile" — as well as what's inside, such as her strength, patience, persistence or grace.

That stuff beats blingitude any day.

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